Nailsworth, Stroud, Gloucestershire
Katie Jarvis discovers how the little town of Nailsworth is punching well above its weight - and gaining a national reputation. Meanwhole Kate Brown took the photographs of the town's traders.
When Norman Kay, Nailsworth's current mayor, was dispatched to pick up Jack Straw from Stroud station in the 1990s, he was amazed when the Labour MP put in a special request. "I've been told I must stop by William's Kitchen," he said.
This famous fish store-cum-deli is just one of the quality shops that have helped put this Cotswold town fairly and squarely on the national map. And nowadays, visiting MPs would almost certainly add another request - a trip to award-winning Hobbs House Bakery.
At the risk of making heads swell, the accolades don't stop there. The town got not one but two mentions in a country-wide list of independent retailers published by the Independent recently. The paper picked out Nonsuch Books and Buskins Shoes for their individuality and quality. And the Passage to India restaurant was judged Best South Asian Restaurant in the South West in last year's Tiffin Club award organised by the House of Commons, after being nominated by another MP - the area's own David Drew.
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"There's an excellent range of shops here," Norman Kay affirms. "In fact, there's not much you can't find. I had a first-hand experience of that myself recently. We were looking for a light for our conservatory and went to John Lewis at Cribbs Causeway and Cheltenham. Then we came back and found exactly what we wanted in Nailsworth!"
Nor is it just the shops that are individual - it's the characters of traders that add to the entertainment of shopping here. "William Beeston of William's Kitchen is very personable and very successful, and he ensures his fresh fish is of the highest quality. Then there's Gordon at Nailsworth Ironmonger's who'd entertain you with stories for hours, if you wanted! Claire Uzzell, who runs County Hairstyles, puts on our annual goodwill evening each November. This year will be a rather special one, because Claire's mother, Daphne Bruton, started these pre-Christmas events 25 years ago."
There's certainly a family feel to the town, which perhaps accounts for why its traders and inhabitants take such pride in their environment. They go the extra mile. The town's 16th century Egypt Mill, for example, is now a stunning hotel and restaurant. No one quite knows where it got its name, though locals say the dye once used by industry there turned the Cotswold stream into the Red Sea! What is sure is the sympathetic conversion that retains much of the building's great history and character.
That's one of many improvements that have taken place over recent years - and many more are in the pipeline. There are plans afoot to enhance the appearance of the centre, including revamping the bus station, and to make it easier to walk and cycle through the town. Shoppers also appreciate the growing number of markets: as well as produce on sale at the farmers' market (on the fourth Saturday of each month), traders in Market Street are living up to their name. They've organised a craft market with jewellery, home furnishings, books, aromatherapy products and much more in their street on the second Saturday of each month from 9am-3pm.
"A particularly lovely corner of the town is Cossack Square, which has become something of a foodie centre," says Lesley Williams-Allen, President of the Chamber of Trade and Commerce. "We've got Wild Garlic, the Britannia, Oldstone's and, around the corner in Market Street, Alfreda's. Of course, there are other lovely restaurants in the town, including O Sole Mio, which is growing in popularity, and the excellent Olive Tree.
"We're also very proud of the Old George complex, with its fantastic shops and residential units. The developers, Colburn Homes, couldn't have been more accommodating and consulted widely with the town before applying for planning. The result is that everyone is delighted and it has made such a difference to the aspect of the town.
"As far as Nailsworth is concerned, it's a question of 'watch this space'. Local people are full of ideas and, what's more, they carry them through."
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